Holiday Gifts from Your Garden
You are probably cringing at the title of this article! I know I would if I saw it. Retail stores and mega corporations push the holidays up more and more every year wanting you to buy gifts earlier and earlier. They force it on us months before the actual event, and I find it offensive.
But if you are a gardener and want to share the bounty of your harvest, now is the time to think about gift giving. Things you grow and make can be used for any occasion, not just the big holidays in December.
There are many ways to preserve what’s in your garden to share later. Everyone loves a homemade gift, too. Making something also goes along the lines of a sustainable lifestyle in that you are not buying something new that causes the manufacture of more (petroleum based) items, there is little to no transportation cost, no CO2 emissions, and it can be recycled. Surely there are no human rights violations in the workplace, either!
Pickle Your Produce
The most obvious idea might be pickles. You can pickle anything – cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, onions, carrots, cauliflower and beets to name a few. Pickles can be canned, which is not difficult. The best book for putting food up is Stocking Up by the Rodale Press. This is the bible of food storage.
If canning sounds intimidating, try refrigerator pickles. I have just discovered this, and it’s handy when you don’t have enough produce to make 7 or 8 quarts of something. I had five cucumbers that I was not going to eat by myself, so I made refrigerator pickles from them.
Tie a festive ribbon around your jar with a card attached for a one-of-a-kind gift. You will be remembered fondly with every bite.
Flowers are now going by and producing seed. Gather the seeds, label them clearly, and make creative envelopes for gift giving. Add instructions for planting with a photo of the plant and flower, just like a seed catalog. If they are seeds of perennials, they must be stratified over winter (given a 2-3 month cold spell) in order to germinate in the spring. Be sure to add in your instructions to keep in the freezer until planting time. Consider googling the particular plant for more detailed growing instructions.
You can save seed from vegetables, too. Again, do some research on saving seeds so your gift recipient actually grows out what you intended to give!
I made these for the first time this year. It is so simple! I bought a case of 12 decorative bottles at a yard sale. They were for brewing beer, but as soon as I saw them, I knew I could use them in my kitchen.
I did some research and came up with this page. A farmer friend of mine grows and preserves 90% of the food her family eats, so I ran it past her, and she confirmed that this is a good source of information.
Making herbed vinegar is as simple as putting herbs and vinegar in a jar and letting it sit for at least a week. I made mine as a last minute fundraising idea a week before the event! I saved one out for myself, a simple tarragon/garlic flavor, and it added zing to my salads. Easy and tasty! Your friends will love it made with your own herbs.
Speaking of herbs, there is always an abundance of them, more than we can use in summer. Cut and dry them for your friends to use throughout the winter. The best time for harvest is first thing in the morning after the dew dries and before the sun heats up the plant. I grab a small handful and cut at the base of the stems with sharp scissors. I remove the lowest leaves, and put a rubber band tightly around the stems. I do this right in the garden. Make small bunches so they dry quickly.
I bring them inside and hang them on a line strung in a bright spot with good ventilation. Do not hang them in the sun or a shady area. Too hot or too cold will ruin the plant and the flavors. You also want them to dry quickly. A dark spot with no ventilation will cause mold problems.
Keep checking them until they are crispy. If there is any softness, they leaves are not dry, and they will mold once in storage. When they are completely dry, you can remove the leaves and put them in glass jars with tight lids. Always store herbs as whole leaves. Once a leaf is crushed, it starts to lose its scent and flavor. An alternative is to store the entire bunch in a plastic zip lock bag, then put a decorative ribbon around the elastic at gift giving time.
Not everyone has a garden, and they would love to receive gifts of what you have grown. They will marvel at your green thumb and thank you for stimulating their taste buds. If your friends are gardeners, you will surely inspire them to try something new in the field and in the kitchen. You may get addicted to making things and start planning your garden around it! Now is the time of year to also make plans for next year…